COVINGTON, Ga. — The seventh-ranked Newton Rams defeated the rival Rockdale Bulldogs by a score of 67-61 in a back and forth game that saw each team get plenty of opportunities at the free throw line.
The Rams were headlined in the second half by Armani Harris, who only had one point in the first half but finished with 19 by the end of the game. The majority of Harris’ points came at the free throw line as he finished 13 of 16 at the charity stripe.
Reliance on a big man at the foul line is rare in the sport, but Rams head coach Rick Rasmussen had full trust in Harris and knew that he would deliver if given the opportunity.
“We had great confidence to go to (Harris) late, and we didn’t have a problem with him getting the ball,” Rasmussen said. “You could see how much he means to us when he was out there to when not in there. Part of the way they came back was him sitting the entire second quarter.”
Foul trouble by both teams was a storyline before the game even tipped off as the Rams took the lead before seconds even came off the clock, due to the Bulldogs being assessed two technical fouls in pregame warm-ups.
Foul trouble being a huge part of the game is an understatement as Rasmussen even went as far as to credit the closeness of the game due to his team’s struggle to adjust to the officiating.
“We kind of got paralyzed by the way the game was being officiated and we didn’t adjust to it,” Rasmussen said. “We let our frustration on the officiating and our not adjusting dictate some poor decisions on offense.”
Tyrease Brown would take the foul line for the Rams and hit three of four before the Rams even inbounded the ball to get the clock running. Brown quickly put on display his sharp-shooting ability, hitting multiple threes in the opening quarter to help his team jump out to a quick 11-2 lead in the first three minutes of play.
Mike Mathison also got involved early hitting multiple shots in the paint and hitting a three of his own from the corner. At the end of one, the Rams seemed to be in full control with a 20-7 lead as Brown finished the quarter with 12 points and Mathison finished with 7.
Brown would end the night as the Rams leading scorer with a team-high 21 points after his monster first half which got them out to an early lead. The play of Mathison and Brown early on was crucial for the Rams and Rasmussen knew that.
“We needed it, because when you go down by 11 later, which we were, if I’m not mistaken, until Tre hit a couple free throws, then obviously if you wouldn’t have had the big lead you could have been in serious trouble,” said Rasmussen. “We’ve had some games where we’ve lost big leads by not being disciplined, so we’re trying to focus on being more consistent.”
The Bulldogs decided enough was enough and put on a masterful second quarter performance to storm back from being down by double-digits to taking a 26-24 lead with 3:13 to play.
They would not give up their lead and would enter halftime with a 35-30 advantage over Newton.
They would come out of halftime strong, going on an 8-3 run in the first two minutes to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to a 43-33 margin.
The Rams would quickly respond in the next 3 and 1/2 minutes of play, shutting down the Rockdale offense and putting together a 10-0 run to tie the game up with 2:22 left to play in the third.
With 1:45 left to play in the third, Tyrease Brown would get his team the lead back with a corner three. The Rams would close out the quarter on a 14-0 run, capped off by a Harris lay-up that provided Newton a 47-43 lead.
Rockdale took a 53-51 lead with 5:11 left to play in the fourth quarter on a three pointer from Jheim McDonald, but the Rams quickly responded with a jumper from Tre Clark, and with 4:45 left to play, the game was knotted at 53.
Clark would give his team the lead with free throws and he and Harris would lead the Rams to victory to close out the game. The first half may have been the Tyrease Brown and Mike Mathison show, but the late play of Clark and Harris was pivotal in helping the Rams get the win.
Rasmussen acknowledged that his Rams will have to play better in their next region game as they take on the Shiloh Generals on the road on January 8.
“The strange part of it is we’re almost glad we’re going to be on the road,” Rasmussen said.